Cheat the Beggars.

Today’s good news I have a date to go for my first coronavirus vaccination, Tuesday 11 Feb 2021, with a little luck I could be one of the survivors of this pandemic, a big OAP cheer – Hip, Hip, Replacement.

For a while, I stayed on ‘Gods Little Acre’ halfway up Stobo Hill in a house that had once been the barracks home of slate quarry workers during the period between 1660 until 1860. Homes roofed in Scottish slate are very distinctive, in their texture and random sizes, but more difficult to work with than good quality Welsh slate, therefore when the railways arrived in the 18 hundreds, the quarry’s producing such slate closed.

When the barracks was in service it was three-story in height, later reduced to two when the dilapidated building was taken over and converted into two dwellings. Living high up on Stobo Hill your were privileged to a commanding view of the valley below,

The old quarry, when I lived there, we had a pair of Praguian Falcons in residence. Looking down the valley, Tinto (a Donald), In the far distance.

a view to behold, and why I called it Gods Little Acre. Running along that valley floor was, what would have been the main road from Edinburgh to Carlisle and the south in those days.

Not only the stagecoach, but migrant labour would travel this road, as the season followed season, working their way up from the hop fields of Kent to the potato fields of Ayr and Aberdeenshire. Any large house they came across they would visit and ask for work, and if no work was forthcoming, then maybe you could spare a crust.

At a distance from the road Alter Stane quarry barracks must have looked like a good place to try one’s luck. However, having climbed all the way up to the quarry they would have been disappointed to find that the quarry workers, far from being able to offer a meal would have been in need of one themselves. And for this reason the house became known as ‘Cheat the Beggars’.

The track leading from the ‘B’ class road up to Cheats was just that, a track, so one thing you could be assured of, anyone venturing up there would be a good friend, not just passing. There was, of course, the exception to the rule, we did have a visit from the Jehovah Witnesses.

The house was so remote it was not uncommon for Brandy, (my young and very athletic Irish Setter), and I to return home from a day in the hills and find a full-blown party going on in my home, (I never locked the door, I can not even remember if the house had a key) first the noise of loud music assaulted your lugs then the smell of Whacky Baccy assaulted your nostrils, as soon as the door was opened, the isolation of Cheats and your ability to see the Polis coming up the track (not that they ever did), lent itself to some wild parties, (a very long time ago).

At the bottom of the track was a massive stone, carried there by a glazier, then deposited, when the ice melted at the end of the ice age.

During the Reformation in Scotland, Roman Catholicism, was outlawed, still, pockets of worshippers continued to practise the old faith. Priests would travel the length and breadth of the country conducting services and taking communion in secret. The places chosen would normally be in woods or isolated places. One such place was at this large stone left there by the melting ice, and to this day it is known as the Altar Stone or Stane and has given the adjacent farm its name.

Brandy, and I spent meanies a weekend walking the hills around the borders (the highest know as Donald’s), a typical day would be to travel down to Manor Head and climb over Dollar Law (817m) then on to Broad Law (840m) with its mast and beacon on top, then down the track, for refreshment at the Crook Inn, where a lift could normally be arrange, (sometimes it was best to drive the owner home, rather than the other way round) if not it would be a case of waving a naked leg at passing motorists, in the country, most people would stop for you.

I have not been down that way for many years but it is top of my list for when this pandemic is under control and restrictions are lifted. The Crook Inn

Licensed in 1604 the Crook Inn would have been a busy place in the days when the A701 was the main road from Edinburgh down to Moffat, first as a staging post for the stagecoach later the tour buses. What is amazing about this building, it escaped the renovation vandals of the 1960s, when great swathes of our architectural heritage were torn down and replaces with concrete monstrosities, that, thankfully, are themselves being torn down. Entering the door of the Crook Inn was just like entering the 1920s. You would not have been surprised to see Bogart, or Jean Harlow, having a cocktail or two in the lounge. However the men’s toilets was the place to visit, this was art deco personified, (I have not visited the female toilet so I can’t comment).

One other claim to fame that the Crook Inn held was when the Talla Reservoir, was being considered by the Edinburgh and District Water Trust the valley of the Talla Waters near to Tweedsmuir was a contender. The area has a high rainfall and if the land could be purchased from Sir Graham Graham-Montgomery it would be built there. A deal was done for £20,425, the water from the reservoir would be piped from here to Edinburgh.

Victoria House was the Headquarters at the time of the dams construction.

Being remote, moving large quantities of construction materials and men too and from the reservoir would be a problem. The Trust decided to construct a private railway for this purpose. The Peebles branch of the Caledonian Railway, ran west to East of Broughton and the Trust negotiated with the Caledonian Railway over a private branch line connection, this was agreed to in April 1895. the private railway runs along the valley for about eight miles from Broughton station. Broughton was where the puddle clay would be extracted for sealing the dam, but was later changed and imported from elsewhere, (I have no knowledge or why Broughton clay was not used).

You can still find parts of the old railway to walk and marvel at the solid construction of the railway bridges for a line that was only supposed to be temporary and look as good today as when they were first built.

The main contractor for the reservoir was James Young and Sons of Edinburgh and work on the railway was started on the 28th September 1895. Crafty old James Young bought a 50 per cent share in the Crook Inn and built a halt there. It was reputed that he paid his men on Friday and had it all back by Monday.

The area around Upper Tweeddale is brilliant for cycling and walking, and if you care to do the study, you will find many old drove roads that will get you across the hills without too much of an effort. A very light folding bike that could be strapped onto your hill sack would add to the pleasure of exploring this beautiful part of the country.

Must-Visit Places

Peebles,

The Crook Inn, Via Dawyck Botanic Gardens,

Talla Reservoir,

Megget Reservoir,

Tabbie Shiels Inn,

St Mary’s Loch,

Traquair House Innerleithen, St Ronan’s Well

Then back into Peebles to complete the circuit. Apart from the steep hill from Talla Linnfoots to Meggethead, there is nothing very serious to climb. Although the 8.5 miles (B709) from Mountbenger to Innerleithen is a bit of a pull. You could of course do it in reverse.

Keep safe and those pedals turning.

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